The invisble woman – the mom behind the throne

This came via e-mail from my sister, and is excerpted from the book The Invisible Woman: A Special Story for Mothers by Nicole Johnson. It has some things to say that I’m pretty sure many moms will relate to, and they’re said well. However, I felt that it had a “mom as martyr” theme to it; considering that the book can be found in Christian bookstores, I guess that makes sense in the “God first, family second, self last” scheme of things.

At the same time, I say let’s make sure we’re NOT invisible to each other, and it’s not all about “legacy.” The here-and-now is important too. Our accomplishments – which are by no means limited to our children! – truly do deserve to be seen, appreciated, and celebrated, as do the women who are accomplishing them.

UPDATED 9/23 to add: If you have issues with the apparent acceptance of the “invisibility”of motherhood conveyed by the following piece – and comments to this post indicate that some folks do, and I happen to agree – MotherTalk is blog-touring a new book that looks like it will take am opposite tack. Click here to link to this week’s reviews of What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. I’m interested in hearing more about this one.

Perspective: The Invisible Woman

It started to happen gradually. One day I was walking my son Jake to
school. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the street
when the crossing guard said to him, “Who is that with you, young

”Nobody,” he shrugged.

“Nobody?” The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but
as we crossed the street I thought, “Oh my goodness, nobody?”

I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say
something to my family – like “Turn the TV down, please” – and
nothing would happen.

Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would
stand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a little
louder, “Would someone turn the TV down?” Nothing.

Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d been
there for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he
was talking to a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there
was a break in the conversation, I whispered, “I’m ready to go when
you are.”

He just kept right on talking.

That’s when I started to put all the pieces together. I don’t think
he can see me. I don’t think anyone can see me. I’m invisible.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response,
the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the
phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t
you see I’m on the phone?”

Obviously not! No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or
sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner,
because no one can see me at all.

I’m invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this?
Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I’m not a pair of
hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, “What time is
it?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney
Channel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the
eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude
–but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be
seen again.

She’s going she’s going she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return
of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous
trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I
was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so
well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I
looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could
find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip
and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was
feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully
wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.”

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly
sure why she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: “To
Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building
when no one sees.”

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would
discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after
which I could pattern my work:

* No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no
record of their names.

* These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would
never see finished.

* They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

* The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the
eyes of God saw everything.

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a

disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my
own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As
one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see
finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The
writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could
ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing
to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend
he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at
4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a
turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.”
That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just
want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to
say to his friend, to add, “You’re gonna love it there.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if
we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world
will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that
has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

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  1. Hmph. I read the excerpt, and my primary thought was “Why is she letting people do this to her?”

    Were my child to refer to me as “nobody”, I’d call him on it – instantly.

    People completely ignore you when you ask them to turn down the TV? You walk over and you turn the damned thing off, and you say “You will NOT ignore me like that. It is incredibly disrespectful.” And the TV doesn’t go back on till I get an apology.

    “Inside I think, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’ ” And why don’t you let that come out? Why keep it on the inside?

    While I take your point about being supportive and aware of each other, celebrating our accomplishment (it’s something I consciously try to do every day), I think women like this make themselves invisible, or at any rate, they allow it to happen.

    Me, I kind of just wanted to shake her, you know?

  2. MaryP – The concept is along the lines of a mindset I saw often in my years living in the South, acquainted with traditional, churchgoing folks. It’s subjugation. And I completely agree that women like the one in this story allow it to happen.

    I understand it, and I know how it feels – but I’ve shed the invisibility cloak, and don’t want to wear it again, so I get what you mean about wanting to shake her. 🙂